Nick Lees: Polish community in Edmonton thanks Canadians for helping them overthrow Communist rule

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Members of the Polish community in Edmonton filled the downtown Rigoletto restaurant on Friday evening to thank Canadians for helping them overthrow a communist regime.

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“It was exactly 40 years ago this evening, the evening of December 13, 1981, the communist regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland and suppressed the few freedoms and rights enjoyed behind the Iron Curtain”, said Thomas Lukaszuk, 52. , born in Gdynia and a member of the dinner organizers of the Canadian Polish Historical Society in Edmonton.

“The law was an attempt to counter political opposition, in particular the solidarity movement made up of many unions. “

Tanks filled the streets, curfews were put in place, the media were censored, public telephone booths were tapped, and water cannons, tear gas and batons were used to disperse protesters.

Thousands of opposition activists have been jailed without charge and around 91 have died.

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Former solidarity union activist Piotr Rajski, who arrived in Canada in 1989.
Former solidarity union activist Piotr Rajski, who arrived in Canada in 1989. Photo by Nick Lees /Provided

Former union activist Piotr Rajski, who arrived in Canada in 1989 and worked as a mental health psychologist until his retirement in 2019, told guests: “I was fired from my university post, harassed by the secret police and imprisoned for four months.

“But even though it was not pleasant of course, like millions of other Poles who joined the solidarity movement, I had no doubt that getting involved was the right thing to do. I knew I was participating in something of truly historic significance.

Lukaszuk praised the courage of the leader of the solidarity trade union movement Lech Walesa for leading the fight against communism.

“He courageously led the non-governmental side of the negotiations, which led to the legalization of the solidarity movement and allowed partially free elections in 1989,” he said.

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“On behalf of the Polish community, we would like to express our gratitude to Canadians for hosting tens of thousands of Polish refugees during this time.

This photo taken on December 15, 1981 in front of the Warsaw University and Academy of Sciences shows armored vehicles before the arrest of some 300 teachers and students.  On December 13, 1981, some 16 months after the union was born in a massive strike at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, then Prime Minister General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law.  MORTON LANGKILDE / AFP PHOTO, FILES
This photo taken on December 15, 1981 in front of the Warsaw University and Academy of Sciences shows armored vehicles before the arrest of some 300 teachers and students. On December 13, 1981, some 16 months after the union was born in a massive strike at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, then Prime Minister General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law. MORTON LANGKILDE / AFP PHOTO, FILES Photo by MORTON LANGKILDE /AFP / Getty Images

Lukaszuk came to Canada at the age of 13 and continued his education at the University of Alberta and was MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs for 14 years.

“Canada has made a huge contribution to helping refugees,” he said.

“Canadian unions have raised funds and shipped materials that have enabled Solidarity to publish underground newspapers, establish communication networks and finance their operations.

“Canadian journalists and politicians have highlighted the dire situation behind the Iron Curtain and denounced human rights violations.

“Meanwhile, Canadian social agencies and individual citizens welcomed Poles, who were arriving here from refugee camps and who, like my father, defected from Polish ships.”

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Dinner host Terese Szlamp-Fryga, who helped found the Polish Historical Society, also noted that Canadian politicians were among those in Western countries who exerted political and economic pressure on Polish authorities, resulting in was essential in helping to overthrow the totalitarian regime and giving hope to the Poles. at home and around the world.

“Social organizations and Canadians have exemplified the generosity of this country and its citizens by welcoming thousands of Polish refugees and immigrants to Canada’s borders and helping them resettle,” she said.

“Catholic Social Services worked closely with Holy Rosary Parish and the Polish Canadian Congress to help some of the Polish citizens who had temporary asylum in neighboring countries. “

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The RCMP also trained police officers in Poland to help with the transition of the administration of laws after the fall of communism.

Air Canada also got involved and donated cargo planes to transport equipment and other items to Poland.

Szlamp-Fryga said many members of Edmonton’s new Polish community did not have a good command of English, but were thirsty for credible and accurate information about events in Poland.

“A local Polish radio show responded to this need,” she said. “We knew we could count on him to keep us up to date during those dark days. “

She introduced the relevant broadcaster Franciszek Zalewski, who was quickly awarded the Order of Merit for Polish Culture from the hands of Vancouver-based Polish Consul General Andrzej Mankowski.

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“Mr. Zalewski has stood out and stands out in the creation and dissemination of Polish culture and the preservation of Polish heritage in Alberta,” said Mankowski.

“Under martial law in Poland, we could only listen to advertisements read on official state television.

“The Poles in Warsaw, like me, could also listen to independent radio, but we knew that military vehicles with antennas would try to locate listeners. “

Edmonton Center MP and Federal Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault said Canada has welcomed some 6,000 Polish refugees who joined the already large population of Polish Canadians who settled here after World War I .

“Canadians of Polish origin made up a significant percentage of the workforce in mining, forestry and railway construction. Others built farms in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, while others moved to larger areas where they opened small businesses. Poles have also made a huge contribution to Canadian culture, he said.

“Their presence and their contributions have made Canada a better place.

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Poland Solidarity Poster 1981
Poland Solidarity Poster 1981 Photo by provided

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